What The Papers Say

Today is Easter Day, so may I wish you a very Happy Easter! “At Easter Christians will be remembering how Jesus Christ showed the ultimate service and hope of eternal life through his death and resurrection. Let us resolve to show some of that service by giving some of our most vulnerable a new life, and a hope for the future.” These are not my words, but the words of David Burrowes, the British Member of Parliament for Enfield Southgate, writing in the Huffington Post, as he makes an impassioned plea for the British authorities to help individual refugees settle into normal life here in the UK more quickly. What a surprise to find someone in public life acknowledging the fact that Jesus did actually die and rise again!

Recently I have read much ‘fake news’, or more correctly false information, about Jesus; from online comments declaring that Jesus never existed and that there’s no evidence that he ever did, to a historian who claims that Jesus was really a warrior king called Izas Manu of Edessa and Adiabene. So what a surprise it was to find an article by Dr Simon Gathercole on the Guardian.com website last week, which spelled out the historical facts, showing that Jesus really did exist. It’s conclusions are that, “the historical evidence for Jesus of Nazareth is both long-established and widespread,” and “the value of this evidence is that it is both early and detailed.”

The Guardian article goes on to say that, “Strikingly, there was never any debate in the ancient world about whether Jesus of Nazareth was a historical figure.” Yet today there are intellectuals who still deny the existence of Jesus, declaring it simply a myth. But as the article says, this “Jesus-myth” approach is criticised most heavily by the two mainstream historians “Maurice Casey (formerly of Nottingham University) and Bart Ehrman (University of North Carolina)”, who are themselves atheists, and have nothing to gain by suggesting that Jesus actually lived. In fact they describe the “Jesus-myth” approach as “pseudo-scholarship”. I have met many people, who tell me Jesus wasn’t a historical figure, but who have never studied the evidence. Is it that they are afraid of what they might find? Because the evidence for his existence also corroborates his words, which are both life-giving and full of love, yet personally challenging. He is a fascinating figure.

The video above asks the question, “Do you know Him?” Yes, the historical Jesus can not only be known about, but can also be known personally today. “Do you know Him?”

I’m Gonna Run Away From You

Wouldn’t it be great to hop into a time machine and escape the troubles of the 21st Century? Or just say goodbye to that annoying boss, spouse, in-laws, loan shark or school bully! The video above is just for fun, but for some people running away from your problems seems the only way out.

Linda’s husband had been declared legally dead in 2003 after disappearing from his home in Indianapolis ten years earlier. On the day he disappeared, Richard Hoagland phoned his wife at work saying he was ill and was on his way to hospital. That was the last time she heard from him. She was left to bring up their two sons, Matthew and Doug, alone; a broken woman.

Fast forward to July 2016, when police one thousand miles away in Pasco County, Florida arrested him for identity fraud. Since fleeing Indianapolis, he had stolen the identity of Terry Jude Symansky, a deceased fisherman, married again and had another child. And his reason for running away? He had “family issues with his wife and children.”

Richard Hoagland isn’t the first of course. Lord Lucan, for instance, vanished in November 1974 after the murder of his son’s nanny at their home in London’s Belgravia. He has never been found. Then two weeks later, John Stonehouse, the British Member of Parliament, and alleged secret agent for Czechoslovakia, faked his own death on a beach in Miami, but was arrested in Australia one month later.

Life isn’t easy, but running away is not always the answer. Jesus told a story about a son that ran away. He took his share of his future inheritance, ran to a far country and spent everything, while having what he thought was a good time. When the money was gone, reality hit. He was reduced to feeding pigs for a living. Eventually he came to his senses and realised that his father’s servants were better off than he was. So ashamed of his failure and planning to ask his father for a job, he headed for home. While he was still a long way off, his father saw him, and filled with compassion he ran to his son, threw his arms round him and kissed him. His past mistakes were forgiven and forgotten; he was a member of the family once again.

So what about us? What about you? Is there something in your life that you can’t face alone? Something that you’d like to run away from? As Jennifer Benson Schuldt writes for Our Daily Bread: “The reality is that we aren’t on our own. God is there, ready to help and comfort us … Jesus understands our fears and problems because He lived on the earth as a human and endured the same types of trouble we face … All we have to do is turn away from whatever scares us, and run in His direction.”

From death to life

Outside the empty tomb

Today we remember the culmination of a battle won, we celebrate a great victory. It’s a victory that has changed the course of history and dramatically altered the quality of life of millions on this planet, yet strangely is understood by so few.

Almost two thousand years ago, and documented by a variety of historians of the time, Jesus died on a Roman cross outside the walls of Jerusalem; but His death was planned before the world began. In fact He said that He came to give His life as a ransom. It was to be a divine exchange: Jesus’ perfection sacrificed for our guilt, that we may go free, forgiven, accepted and cleansed for all eternity.

Death is a formidable enemy. It is something that none of us can avoid, but it was helpless against Jesus. Yes, He succumbed to death, but that was His choice. It could not hold Him, as hundreds of witnesses at the time could testify (1 Corinthians 15:6). He rose from the dead, even keeping an appointment in Galilee that He made before His death (Matthew 26:32; John 21).

Throughout His time on earth, He frequently spoke about life; not just humdrum, everyday life, but a new quality of life that continues into eternity, and that is on offer to all who will put their trust in Him. John, one of His closest followers, records His words: “I came to give life with joy and abundance.” “Whoever hears my word and believes him who sent me has eternal life and will not be judged but has crossed over from death to life.” “Whoever trusts in the Son has eternal life, but whoever rejects the Son will not see life.” “For God loved the world so much that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life.”

However, Jesus didn’t just talk about it, He fought the battle with death and came out the victor, and because of what He did two thousand years ago, we have the opportunity today to receive that free gift of life, life in all its fulness, life for all eternity.

To find out more, check out: Time to Change.

Love changes everything!

Mass wedding
Afghan mass wedding (Photo: Comfort Aid International)

“Love Changes everything”1 is the title of a well-known song from Aspects of Love, the 1989 musical by Andrew Lloyd Webber, but it’s also a profound truth. Romantic love can make you feel alive, as though your life has a purpose; each day becomes an adventure, each night a chance to dream, but it’s the love that we show to our fellow human beings that really changes everything.

In a Valentine’s Day report from Afghanistan, NBC News correspondent Mandy Clark reported on the impact that love can make, and is making, on the war against the Taliban. Valentine’s day was banned in Afghanistan when the Taliban were in power, but now love and marriage are being seen as a way of strengthening society and a means of depriving the Taliban of new fighters.

Afghan newlyweds Suliman and Farzana believe that if everyone understood the proper meaning of Valentine’s Day, “there would be no more weapons.” This is not just wishful thinking. Afghan young men have been joining the Taliban for money because they are single and poor. Young, married men, however, have a wife and responsibilities at home.

To improve Afghan society a Muslim charity, Comfort Aid International, have been sponsoring mass weddings in the poorer parts of the country. Thirty-eight couples took part in the latest event. Eighteen year-old Sayeed Hussaini and his bride Fatima could not have got married without the charity’s help. “I’m jobless, but I will not join them,” said Sayeed, determined to avoid the Taliban for the sake of his new wife Fatima.

As Farzana aptly put it, “So when love comes even Taliban cannot stop anybody … Love can change everything!”

Or as Michael Ball sang, “Love, love changes everything: how you live and how you die … Nothing in the world will ever be the same … Love will turn your world around, and that world will last forever … Love will never, never let you be the same.”

Or as Jesus said, “A new command I give you: Love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another. By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another.” (John 13:34-35)

Jesus obviously knew that … love changes everything!

NOTE:

1 Composed by Andrew Lloyd Webber, with lyrics written by Charles Hart and Don Black and sung by Michael Ball.

You’re wrong, I’m right!

CartoonAn inch – the exact length of the tip of my little finger! Or for those who are unfamiliar with Imperial measurements: 2.54 cm. That short distance is at the centre of a court case brought by two men from New Jersey, John Farley and Charles Pendrak. They are taking the sandwich shop chain Subway to court because the “Footlong” sandwiches they bought were one inch (or less) shorter than a foot. However, whether the two men lost out at all is contentious. The Life Inc. website reports that, “online commenters identifying themselves as Subway employees speculated that the consumers were receiving exactly the same dough as others who got 12-inch subs, but that the dough, which arrives frozen at franchise locations, hadn’t been properly tugged, pulled and “proofed” before it was baked.”

To be fair I must declare an interest, having bought some very tasty £3 Subway lunches on one or two business trips recently. But what’s your verdict? Should their dough just have been tugged a bit further or was Subway already aware that its ‘Footlongs’ were not a foot long? Should these men be rewarded for standing up for “the little guy”, and not allowing big business to trample all over them – remembering that Subway is run on a franchise system, so all their shops are “little guys”? Or do you think that there are more important matters in this world, personal crises in many people’s lives – even in the States – people who genuinely deserve their day in court, if only there was someone to represent them? These questions are rarely black and white.

We may not take people to court over the length of a sandwich, but we may still judge people in our hearts, often without having the full facts. God once reminded the prophet Samuel, “People look at the outward appearance, but the Lord looks at the heart.” (1 Samuel 16:7) What about the homeless guy whom we see in the street? I heard this week of a former chauffeur to a foreign royal family, who is now living on the streets of Britain.  As the saying goes, there but for the grace of God go I.

We all make mistakes, it’s part of being human – even so, we need to accept others and allow them to be who they are. OK, if someone’s committed a crime there should be justice, but for most of us, whether it’s a fashion faux-pas, a slip of the tongue, our skin colour or even a life on the streets, what we need is encouragement not judgement.

Jesus was not one to criticise or condemn, unless you were a religious hypocrite that is; instead he showed love and compassion to the downtrodden and the marginalised, becoming known as “a friend of sinners”. The religious leaders once brought to him a woman caught with a man who wasn’t her husband. The legal sentence was death by stoning. Jesus answered, “If any one of you is without sin, let him be the first to throw a stone at her.” The crowd began to melt away. When the last of her accusers had gone, Jesus’ response was one of understanding and forgiveness. “Where are they? Is there no one left to condemn you?”  he asked.

“No one, sir,” she answered.

“Well, then,” Jesus said, “I do not condemn you either. Go, but do not sin again.” (John 8:2-11)

Going underground

London Underground sign

From Kew Gardens to the Tower, from Baker Street to Elephant & Castle, from Wembley to London Bridge and from Heathrow to Piccadilly Circus; for millions of Londoners, the London Underground, or ‘the Tube’ as it’s more commonly known, is occasionally fast, sometimes noisy, often crowded and generally the most effective way of getting around the UK’s capital city. Exactly 150 years ago today on 9th January 1863, the first passenger journey on the world’s first underground railway took place. In those days it was known as the Metropolitan Railway. It ran from London’s Paddington railway station to Farringdon, a journey of three-and-a-half miles, and was hauled by a steam train.

The Metropolitan Railway Company had difficulty in proving to potential backers that the scheme was viable, not least because of negative stories in the press. ‘The Times’ newspaper, for instance, described the project as ‘an insult to common sense’. Others argued that passengers would be poisoned by the sulphurous smoke from the engines, and that the tunnels would collapse under the weight of the traffic above. Today however, London Underground has 270 stations and carries more than three million passengers a day.

The Metropolitan Railway’s detractors had no idea how popular the underground railway would become, but more pointedly they had no vision for anything but the status quo. Jesus faced the same problem. His coming had been prophesied hundreds of years before in the Jewish scriptures. Details like his birth at Bethlehem, his healing miracles and his suffering, death and resurrection were all foretold by the prophets. Yet when he began to teach and preach, privately declaring himself to be the long-awaited Messiah, the religious hierarchy didn’t recognise him. They weren’t prepared for something new. They were expecting a Messiah who would free them from Roman occupation not from personal wrongdoing; a Messiah who would come in power not in weakness; a Messiah who would come from God, not claim to be God. They couldn’t think outside the box.

Today that same Jesus, who turned the world upside down 2,000 years ago, is wanting to do the same with your life. He’s looking for people who see beyond the status quo, who will love the unlovely, who will go the extra mile, who will put him first and trust him for their future. As Rabbi Sha’ul once wrote: “I press on to take hold of that for which Jesus the Messiah took hold of me. … one thing I do: forgetting what is behind and straining towards what is ahead, I press on toward the goal to win the prize for which God has called me heavenward in Jesus the Messiah.” (Philippians 3:12-14 TNIV)

What’s it all about?

Bored man in Christmas hat

The stores have been full of Christmas goods for weeks; you’ve probably heard more than enough of ‘Rudolph the Red Nosed Reindeer’; your bank account is probably looking rather forlorn and the children’s excitement will soon be nearing fever-pitch. Enough already! In some countries of course, Christmas comes and goes almost unnoticed, as Christmas presents, or even a proper meal and a roof over one’s head, are only a dream. What’s the point of Christmas?

For others, Christmas is a magical time, the food, the presents and the opportunity to relax and indulge make Christmas the highlight of the year, but is that all there is to Christmas?

Before you give up on Christmas altogether, take a quick look at this video of ‘Christmas in a Nutshell’. In 1 minute 59 seconds it gives us the answer to “Why Christmas?” So when Christmas Day comes and goes, the presents are all unwrapped, the alcohol drunk, and you think what was that all about, you will have learnt the secret, not just of Christmas, but of life itself. Take a look!

Love your enemies

Enniskillen war memorial
Enniskillen in more peaceful times (Photo: Dean Molyneaux)

Jesus is different. He asks us to live in a way that is contrary to the rest of the world. We humble ourselves to become great; to receive, we give away. It’s challenging and often difficult to do. Yet when we do these things, our example has power to change the world. Of all Jesus’ commands none is more challenging than to “Love your enemies”.

“But I tell you who hear me: Love your enemies, do good to those who hate you, bless those who curse you, pray for those who mistreat you. If someone strikes you on one cheek, turn to him the other also. If someone takes your cloak, do not stop him from taking your tunic. Give to everyone who asks you, and if anyone takes what belongs to you, do not demand it back. Do to others as you would have them do to you.” (Luke 6:27-31)

Loving your enemies also includes forgiving them – something misunderstood by so many. In the UK one of the greatest examples of love and forgiveness in recent years happened 25 years ago this month on 8th November 1987, when the IRA detonated a bomb that killed eleven people and injured 68 in the town of Enniskillen, Northern Ireland. It was Remembrance Sunday. Committed Christian Gordon Wilson and his twenty year old daughter Marie were standing at the war memorial when the bomb went off. Marie died from the injuries she received in the explosion. Following the tragedy, Gordon Wilson was interviewed by the BBC. “I bear no ill will to anybody nor does my wife,” he said. He also added that he had prayed for the bombers.

“The words that he spoke during that interview went global, touching the hearts of millions including the Queen,” wrote Mervyn Jess of BBC News. Many believe that the huge media coverage along with Gordon Wilson’s reaction transformed it from a tragedy to a turning point in the troubled history of Northern Ireland.

Citizens of Mogadishu
Peace slowly returning to Mogadishu

This week’s ‘Unreported World’ documentary shown this week on the UK’s Channel 4 showed that it’s not just followers of Jesus that have the will to forgive. Ahmed Jama Mohamed arrived in the UK as a child, where he trained as a chef and set up a successful restaurant before returning to war-torn Somalia, leaving his wife and children in the relative safety of London. His aim, to bring peace and normality back to his homeland.

On the Channel 4 website, Aidan Hartley, a journalist with many years experience of Somalia, writes: “Ahmed Jama is a man who serves up hope one meal at a time for a people spat out and exhausted by war. His one-man peace process is to cook comfort food, to bring Somalis back to the table in Mogadishu to enjoy a meal with loved ones, to provide them with the space to enjoy time talking, to pass the time – something that endless, total war has denied them for almost a generation.” Just days before filming, two suicide bombers burst in, shooting at customers before blowing themselves up in his restaurant. Twenty people were murdered. The Islamist perpetrators gloated over the deaths and promised to strike again. When asked if he felt angry and resentful, Ahmed Jama replied, “We have to show forgiveness.”

It is in responding to the difficulty of God’s challenge to love our enemies that we recognise afresh our inability to be all that God calls us to be. Even the apostle Paul, who, as a follower of Jesus, never seemed to put a foot wrong, admitted “I know that good doesn’t live in me—that is, in my body. The desire to do good is inside of me, but I can’t do it.” (Romans 7:18) If our world is to live in peace, we personally need to be made anew. No wonder Jesus said: “You must be born again.” (John 3:7)